Few give the turkey credit for being the wild and wonderful creature that it is. Benjamin Franklin did, and he even suggested in a letter to his daughter that the U.S. should have made it the national bird instead of the bald eagle.

Few give the turkey credit for being the wild and wonderful creature that it is. Benjamin Franklin did, and he even suggested in a letter to his daughter that the U.S. should have made it the national bird instead of the bald eagle. 

It may not have made the cut for national bird, but it is no doubt a favorite game bird throughout the U.S. In fact, its popularity as tasty table fare almost led to its demise. 

Robert Abernethy, wildlife biologist and assistant vice president of the National Wild Turkey Federation agency programs, says as soon as Europeans landed on this continent, they started killing turkeys in large numbers.

“By the 1930s, turkeys were almost extinct throughout the U.S,” Abernethy says. “But, thanks to hunter regulations and conservation groups, such as the National Wild Turkey Federation, there are now more than 7 million wild turkeys roaming the U.S.”

There are five subspecies that make up the U.S. population of turkeys.

• Eastern – Ranges throughout the eastern half of the U.S.
• Osceola – Found only in the Florida peninsula.
• Rio Grande — Ranges through Texas to Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado, Oregon and central and western California, as well as parts of a few northeastern states.
• Merriam’s — Ranges from the Rocky Mountains and neighboring prairies of Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota to much of the high mesa country in New Mexico.
• Gould’s — Found in the southernmost parts of Arizona and New Mexico.

One of the most interesting and impressive facts about the turkey is that baby turkeys, called poults, can fly 10 to 12 days out of the egg. By two weeks, they can wing in and out of trees, which is imperative to their survival. 

According to Abernethy, only about half of the turkey nests make it to hatching, and only about half of turkey poults survive to two weeks.

“Predators are a big threat to poults, but honestly, more poults die from weather-related reasons than any other,” Abernethy says. “A cold, wet spring is the biggest culprit. If the poults get wet and then the temperature is very cold that night, they’ll die from hypothermia. Once they make it to that two-week mark, where they can roost in trees at night, their chances for survival go way up.”

Additional facts on the wild turkey provided by the NWTF

• The average turkey has between 5,000 and 6,000 feathers, which allow it to fly, keep warm and dry, and show off for the opposite sex.
• Hens and gobblers are born with a small button spur on the back of each leg, but only the male’s spurs grow pointed and curved to approximately 2 inches.
• A turkey’s snood, which is that flap of skin above the turkey’s beak, has no known function.
• Gobblers also grow beards, which are modified feathers, from the chest. The average beard is 9 inches, but they can grow much longer. Some hens also grow beards.
• Wild turkeys can turn their head almost all the way to the rear on either side, giving them the ability to see their surroundings in 360 degrees.  
• Wild turkeys have incredibly sharp eyesight, far exceeding the visual capacity of humans.
• Wild turkeys can make up to 28 different vocalizations.
• Wild turkeys can run up to 25 mph.
For more info on the wild turkey, check out www.nwtf.net.